Question: What’s Wrong With Fiction Today?

It’s a provocative question.

Probably not a fair one, either. It presupposes a lot —

— like, say, that there is anything at all wrong with fiction today.


Noodle it.

What’s wrong with fiction today?

What’s missing? What’s gone off the tracks, off the reservation?

Is it in the writers? The publishers? The audience? The culture?

If you’re a writer: how do you combat this… thing?

How do you fix what’s broken?

Again: provocative.

But put your mind to it.

And answer the question however you must. Even if it’s to tell me to go fuck myself.

I’ll hang up and wait for your answer.


67 responses to “Question: What’s Wrong With Fiction Today?”

  1. The problem with fiction today is that there are too many people trying to cater to too large an audience using too many established trends.

    Those who invest in publishing fiction (regardless of media) all too often try to ‘play it safe’ and get their slice of an already cooling pie. We need new pies, even if they are of the same or similar flavour. Don’t try to sell us the exact same pie we ate last week on a new plate–I don’t care if you covered it in whippit or steak sauce; it’s still the same goddamn stale old pie, and I ain’t paying full price for that crap. Sell me a new pie, with new and surprising flavouring. I might not like it, true, but then I’ll know that and I can pick a different pie next time–and guess what? Someone will eat it, and happily pay for seconds.

    More unsafe pie.


  2. “I’m not sure I agree, yet — er, being one of the authors of that kind of fiction — but I like it.”

    Sorry, I hadn’t intended it as a dig (as I very much like that kind of fast-paced fiction!). It’s what’s wrong with fiction, not what’s wrong with books, if you take my meaning?

    To use a movie example, the Seven Samurai being good in its way doesn’t detract from Firefly being good in its way. But I think that there are increasingly fewer stories like Seven Samurai coming out in book and film, and that I at least am losing the knack for appreciating them. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with the individual books, only that there is a chunk of fiction-space that’s increasingly uncultivated.

    This is a thing-that’s-wrong because reading (and to a lesser extent viewing) is an evolving skill: you don’t just learn to read any more than you learn to write, you learn to read and appreciate genres. Reading a fast-paced action-packed book is a different skill than reading a meditative one, just as reading prose is a different skill from reading sonnets. (And reading fast-paced SF books IS a skill: keeping track of sweeping plots, complex characters and fantastic settings without much introduction, tracking intricate action sequences; these aren’t easy to new readers) I think that the reading market, for various reasons (some good, some bad), is very good at reading fast-paced books with intricate plots and action sequences. And I think that there’s not so many people who have the skill (patience?) to read stories that we might call long-winded and meandering, which makes it harder to sell those books, which in turn means that fewer people have those skills…

  3. There’s nothing wrong with fiction – even bad fiction. Doesn’t everyone get that urge once in a while to read/watch something mind-numbingly crap? It can’t just be me as there’s a whole genre for it…schlock.

    The issues are the mechanisms through which fiction is chosen and advertised and the consumers who are disenfranchised by broken promises……..BEST FILM OF 2013…..released January 1st 2013…….OOOHH doesn’t this book look pretty……….until you start reading.

    There is a definite lack of honesty in advertsiing fiction…..consumers have to be more open minded, advertisers must learn to deliver on their promises………..and remember, one persons trach is another person’s treasure!!!!

  4. BEST FILM OF 2013……released 1st January 2013….

    Look at me! Look at my cleavage and my gorgeous feminine make up wearing lover!!!

    I must be a good book…..I have 5 stars baby! So what if the reviewer slept through the whole thing….stars are bought and sold bitch!

    Buy me, you by this woman’s cleavage!!!

    There is nothing wrong with fiction, only th lack of honesty in advertising leading to masses of consumers disenfranchised by broken promises!

  5. It looks like the publishing world is changing rapidly these days. Tried and true approaches do not work anymore and everyone in the business has to learn completely new skills. This change can be seen as scary and a problem. Writers need to be familiar not only with the traditional tools of the trade like how to use proper grammar, how to produce a worthwhile story and how to read contracts; they also need to understand social media. Publishers have to deal with cheap competition from e-publishing and large online distributors. Readers even have to find new ways of discovering authors they like and novels that are not just more of the same by authors they already know and are fed up with. It is interesting to note, that this change is nowhere near completion yet and that only those folks will survive, who are able to adapt. If you are set in your ways, without any desire to learn new technologies, and rather like things the way they were, you will sink. One example of this is the demise of the super big book chain stores, that are all but vanished now, while independent bookstores are looking at a comeback. So I would say this situation can be seen as a problem or as an opportunity. It really depends on the mindset of the observer. Also, looking at history, when has the publishing industry ever not been in a state of crisis?

  6. I am so behind on current/modern fiction that it isn’t even funny. I did read and enjoy The Hunger Games trilogy. The first books were awesome, but the last one left me wanting a better story and a better reveal. It felt like there was something missing to me between the confrontation between Snow and Katniss.

  7. After much thought…

    Library book sales that reduce availability because the books are only checked out infrequently.

    The audience’s need (or perhaps simply desire) for something new, cheap, of good quality, right this nanosecond.

    But mostly, my biggest problem with fiction today is that I haven’t contributed enough to it. My only solution is to step up my game and be a professional. As for the others, library committee work, perhaps, and a constant vigil to maintain quality work and practice patience are my options. I can’t change the audience, but if I’m the one in the spotlight, I will be the best example I can be.

  8. as with many of life’s changes, it was gradual.
    the published word was a cherished thing, only the very best were published because only the very best were willing to suffer through the process for their true love of writing.

    as writing and publishing became easier with technology, more drivel was produced, so publishers depended more on gatekeeping agents to sift thru submissions and this worked for a time.

    then the flood of agents burst the dam and more and more sub standard books were published. anyone could be a writer, especially if they knew someone. best selling books brought boo coos of wannabes trying to make it by writing stuff in the same hot genre.

    this brings us up to today. anyone with internet access can publish a book, no skills, or even money, is required. the case of a few spoiling it for the rest of us is proven again

    i have read too many self published books where the author is either being mislead/ delusional of their talent or just too lazy to put forth the effort to use an editor.

    the problem of fiction today is, writers are being spared the truth. society wants to tell you that you can do anything, but the reality is, some shouldn’t AND great accomplishments come from great efforts & sacrifices!

    thanks for the spouting platform!

  9. Honestly, I think it’s more what’s wrong with society than what’s wrong with fiction.

    Writing tends to be a reflection of the values held by the people doing the reading. What they buy and read is what gets written.

    It’s sort of appalling that crap like Mobwives and Jersey Shore are what is driving what people want to read and that the biggest obstacle a heroine has to overcome is why her boyfriend suddenly bails.

    Thankfully, stuff like Harry Potter still gets just as much play, but the trend towards the fluffy, substanceless blather about how impossible it is to live without someone telling you how to live your life is truly scary.

    That having been said, I do enjoy the occasional fluffy read. It’s like eating a bag of cheetos. All kinds of fun at the time, but you still need to go back to the meat and taters.

  10. @Chuck

    You replied to me a while back, so not sure if you’ll see this or replied, but I’d like to say the reason I say there’s nothing wrong with fiction is because I like diversity. Like take for example, The Avengers. I love the Avengers. I like movies like that and I wouldn’t want movies like that to no longer exist. That said, I’d also want movies where we have more named female main characters and not just 2 (as it was in that movie) and I think we have enough movies like Avengers/PiratesoftheCaribbean/TheMatrix/IronMan/SherlockHolmes/Etc (all of which I loved) so we can use some variety.

    Basically if you want to be nitpicky with wording (and I have a feeling you don’t and ‘im just being incredibly annoying lol), there’s nothing wrong.

    And if you don’t want to be nitpicky, then yeah there’s lots wrong There’s wrong in everything man made. There’s always room for improvement.

    Another place for improvement would be the way books (movies, tv programming, comics, etc) are chosen to be made and marketed. People care more about money than they do a good, entertaining, HEALTHY story. It’s the same with trash and reality tv or violent video games or movies with no substance. Just because it’s addicting and earns alot of money, is the damage caused in the way people see the world and interact with the ACTUAL REAL WORLD really worth it?

    It’s the dilemma I always find myself when I see the success and notoriety of stuff like 50 Shades of Gray. What’s more important? Monetary success or telling a story that changes people forever for the better? But then what’s the difference if you’re just telling the story that your heart tells you to write? It’s very complicated.

  11. Whatever it is that is leading to such bad fiction writing today, I know as a reader it has turned me off to buying books anymore. In the last year especially I have been drawn in by the hype of new books written by “promising young aithors” that were merely long form versions of what should have been a short story. The writing was horrendously juvenile, the dialogue was lackluster, the stories were old and regurgitated nonsense. The books left me feeling that publishers are struggling to come up wth anything they can push on the public as possibly good in hopes that it will take off. Sadly, I returned them all and went looking for classics to read, or non-fiction (much of which was also poorly written, believe it or not). When I do find a decently written book I extol it to my family as a rare find.

    So whatever is causing this, it needs to be fixed fast! The book world can’t survive much longer selling garbage to adults that teens are willing to read.

  12. There’s nothing wrong with fiction today. “Fiction” is just a group, a description. You might as well ask, “What’s wrong with ice cream?”
    Ask me what’s wrong with a particular book, and I can tell you, based on what I like and dislike. Ask me what’s wrong with an entire genre and I’ll say “Nothing” because there are good and bad books within that genre. Readers don’t read fiction, they read books, individual stories and they go back to those stories and those authors because that narrative works for them. Other people might not like that genre or that book, but reading is not a group activity; you just have to reach one reader at a time.
    Writers are no worse today than they ever were. There are truly bad writers out there today, but anybody who’s done in-depth reading in a survey course knows that writers sucked in previous centuries, too (I give you Coventry Patmore’s “The Angel in the House” for starters). And yet there are readers who love the writers that suck. That’s good; the last thing we need is the Story Police, telling us what we should be reading.
    Fiction is doing just fine.

  13. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. What is wrong with fiction today, in my opinion, is there are too many rules and too much emphasis on novels and characterization. This might sound odd but please here me out. Edgar Allan Poe, Oscar Wilde, Hans Christian Anderson, H.P. Lovecraft, all of these people were true technicians. Many of their characters-except for maybe Wilde- were not great. What made up for this deficit was imagination. They all had wonderful imaginations. Today the popular slogan taught in creative writing classes and any alleged ‘expert’ here online is “If we don’t care about the characters then we won’t care about the story.” To immediately embrace such a claim is harmful. It weakens a writers imagination.

    A few weeks ago I came across a sight begging for submissions with an interesting story. The editor said, “Your characters can be good but please give us an interesting story. If nothing is happening you can have them jump up and down all you want, we won’t accept the story.” Meanwhile you have people who are like Poe, Anderson, Lovecraft, Wilde,who might not be great character builders, but exhibit great ideas for stories. Here the problem is audience…a product of the culture we live in. Many have short attention spans. They want to be fed everything through a feeding tube. So we have writers exhausting themselves to please a herd with short attention spans. People who read know-at least I hope- they have to invest themselves in the story too: imagine the characters, think this or that concerning plot etc., This line of thinking does not give a writer permission to write half ass however. Writing, like anything, is serious. ‘If you can’t do it right then don’t do it at all’

    Rules. Since when did long words become a sin? Or words ending in -ly. Last time I checked-done by authors who are far better than you or I will ever be- used -ly -ing…every rule today’s “experts” deem as lazy writing. Our nations literacy rate is already dropping. This affects what the writer writes too.

    Lets see: Novels. When are you working on your novel?? Uh, I write short stories and poetry!! Cute…now when are you releasing your novel?? Since when has novels become a measuring stick? The written word can be expressed through so many mediums. Why stick to just one? With everyone writing NOVELS authors are becoming students in Adolf Hitler’s school for the arts!! We talk about ‘new’. Well act new!! Do something about it!! Look up the advice and enthusiasm of Ray Bradbury!!

    I’m not pegging anyone who loves writing only novels or doing the opposite of everything I’ve just written-I admire you all- what I’m saying is diversity should be welcomed. Without it we wouldn’t have our Winesburg, Ohio’s or Cthulu’s or Black Cats..Martian Chronicles..etc.,

    Thank You

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